My field partner for the day, a credit officer named Joshua, is already in the field when I arrive in Baba Mdogo, and I must navigate his descriptive map to find him in the slum. Turn left at the butchery and enter a narrow strip of shops. Take a right at the tomato stand. When a blue sign reading “Obama’s Barber Shop” is visible, turn right again. From there, exit the car and walk through the tight space formed by the tin shacks on the left. Walk through the second-hand shoe store and exit the back.
There, I find several hanging clotheslines, and Joshua is standing between drying towels and skirts speaking to a tall borrower wearing a bucket hat and jeans. I’m introduced to Michael Otieno, a tailor. When the borrower profile form is complete, we enter Michael’s shop on the other side of the clotheslines. I slip on the wet dirt as we enter, and am steadied by a man holding several scraps of muted fabric.
Michael proudly tells me, in English, that this is one of his three employees. Michael is 40 years old, married and has six children. He took out his first loan from KADET three years ago and has since multiplied his income several fold, expanded into a bigger location and created jobs for young tailors in his community. With his third loan from KADET, Michale says he will purchase more fabric for waiting customers as well as pay for his children’s school fees. “My life goal,” Michael says, “is to do real estate business. I bought a plot already and hope to have the capital to develop it in the next few years.”
We exit Michael’s shop and make our way back to the main street. The morning rain filled the pot holes with deep sticky puddles, and it’s impossible to avoid being splashed by moving bicycle tires, hand carts and roving animals. It is the first time I’ve seen pigs added into the mix of wandering cows, goats and chickens. The only pink visible on their mud-soaked bodies is behind their ears. After a few minutes trudging through the muddy road, we duck under a corrugated tin roof and step into the wooden structure it covers. Three light bulbs bathe the room in a pale glow, and I’m surprised to be standing on damp straw in a small room full of chickens. A single chair sits in the 8’ x 8’ space, its blue vinyl seat barely visible beneath the white chicken droppings.
George, whose second name is also Otieno, is 41-years-old and has been in the chicken rearing business for two years. He purchases chicks when they are a day old, feeds them for six weeks, and then sells them to butchers and farmers. “There must be 50 in here,” I say to George. “Actually,” he responds in Kiswahili, “there are 98. I bought 100 but two of them died despite my investment in body strengthening food. It was sad for me.”
With the help of his wife, Mercy, George also runs two other businesses: a general retail store that sells items like maize and sugar, and a hotel (café) in the room attached to the chicken coop.
Chicken rearing is George’s most recent venture. I ask him why he chose to enter this seemingly unrelated area of business. “My hotel always has leftovers and I did not want to waste them,” George says in his deep scratchy voice, “I thought maybe I could feed these leftovers to livestock, like pigs. But then I noticed that pigs are too dirty and preferred to raise chickens instead. Now I never waste anything from the hotel and I can feed my chickens without really having to purchase additional food.”
George is a KADET success story. His first loan, disbursed just four years ago, was worth KSh 10,000 (~$135). At the time, George had been running his retail shop for six years and was not making enough money to care for his family’s basic needs. When one of George and Mercy’s two sons got sick, they could not afford to take him to a doctor. “He died of normal sickness in the stomach,” George tells me. I’m left wondering if this was a preventable death.
With the motivation of better providing for his remaining son and wife, George took out his first loan with KADET and opened his café. Now on his 7th loan, worth KSh 80,000 (~$1070), George plans to purchase stock for his retail shop and meat to serve in his café. A foray into the world of real estate is George’s next venture, which he will begin next year with the extra profits he anticipates from this loan combined with another loan from KADET.
George wears a gray jacket over a white button-up shirt, black pants and a matching baseball cap. As he prepares for his photo, he bends down to arrange the healthiest looking chickens around him. Joshua snaps his picture. “One more,” George says. Picking up a particularly plump bird, George laughs as he shoves it into my hands. “Smile” he says in English.
Joshua and I climb back into the van and head to our next borrower. On the way, Joshua waves at a child wearing a red jacket. “That is George’s son,” Joshua tells me. I take a closer look at the healthy boy laughing with his friends and wave.
We head down yet another narrow, muddy street to find our next borrower: Edward Abisalom Obongo Olero. Dozens of kids surround me as we walk, grabbing to clasp my hand or touch my leg. The now familiar chorus of “Hi, how are you?” trails me down the road; it’s the first English phrase they are taught in school. I am a novelty; most of these children have never seen a mzungu before. We take a sharp right down a tiny alley, dodging a young woman carrying a massive yellow bucket of water on her head, and step into Edward’s retail store. The shelves are filled with coffee, tea, sugar, toilet paper, batteries, detergent and other general merchandise. A tall refrigerator sits in the middle of the room stocked with a variety of sodas. Edward offers one to me and I accept, handing him KSh 40. A window opens to the crowded main road, and while Joshua and I interview Edward for his borrower profile, four women stick their heads in to purchase various items.
Edward will be 40 years-old this year and is married to Maureen Akiny, who is 21. Maureen lives upcountry with Edward’ parents and he sees her only once or twice a year. They have one child together, and although Edward would love to see his daughter on a daily basis, the business opportunities near Nairobi are much better than upcountry. Five years ago Edward decided to quit earning money as a casual laborer and open his own shop. When he first started his business, Edward did not have an actual store; he carried his merchandise from market to market selling items from a blanket. With a KADET loan he opened a kiosk; with a subsequent loan he opened a shop; and with yet another loan he relocated to his current location. Now applying for his eighth loan with KADET, Edward wants to open another store that will specialize in both wholesale and retail supply. He plans to hire someone to run one of his shops. “I’m proud to be creating a job for someone else that might just be getting started,” Edward tells me. “I want to hire someone like who I was five years ago. To give someone their first start at making consistent money.”
Emma Akinyi Mugwanga: It is obvious the moment we arrive that the residents of Lucky Summer generate a higher income than those we visited this morning. Emma Akinyi Mugwanga owns a weaving business called Ragwanda. With a cement floor and walls and a tin roof, Ragwanda is a cheery shop filled with weavings of yellow, blue, green and purple. They hang across the length of the store on two clotheslines. A loom, half filled with yellow and white yarn, is pushed against the center wall. Emma’s customers purchase her weavings to use as decoration on dining tables, chairs and in their bathrooms. It is clear that her customers are those that can afford to spend money on aesthetics. Emma started her weaving and embroidery business four years ago and has since built up her income to 25,000 Kenya Shillings a month. She never took formal classes, but always had an interest in learning how to embroider and weave. Emma sought out a knowledgeable friend and learned the basics from her. Through her own practice and dedication, Emma became an advanced weaver. She now wants to diversify her income by entering the fish distribution market. This is Emma’s third loan from KADET, but the first which she will use for a brand new business. Emma’s dream is to go to college and conduct training in interior design. She is hoping that her fish distribution business will provide her with the money she needs for tuition.
Behind a squat red door is Francis Kamau Kaniuki’s home. We conduct our meeting in the living room, a spacious area filled with two armchairs, a long couch and a television set. The walls display a map of Africa, family photos and a picture of Kenya’s President. Francis is poised and confident, speaking in an animated accented English. He offers Joshua and me tea and tells us to relax on his couch, gesturing to the embroidered decorations covering the red couch cushions. Francis is married and has eight children, ranging in age from 21 to 40. He purchased his plot of land 21 years ago and started building rental homes shortly after. With this loan from KADET, his sixth, Francis will purchase cement, sand, stones and labor to complete the building he rents to tenants. “My next business,” Francis tells me, “will be to enter the transport industry. I want to own a truck and carry greens and cereals from upcountry to sell in Nairobi. My wife has diabetes and I want to be able to pay for her medicines for the rest of our lives. I am certain I will accomplish this.”
It takes almost two hours to drive the six kilometers back to the KADET head office. My experience with traffic and moving vehicles in Nairobi has made me forever grateful to live in a society where stop lights aren’t optional, distinct lanes exist and exhaust fumes aren’t a constant source of nausea.